Women with TB ‘lose their home’: Indian Health Minister

Women with TB ‘lose their home’: Indian Health Minister

15,000 women marched through New York City in 1908 demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. 100 years on, the pertinence of this event is honored through International Women's Day's 2008 global theme 'Shaping Progress'.

In just three years time, 2011 will see the International Women's Day's Centenary - 100 years of women's united action for global equality and change.

Stigma is known to impede the responses to HIV and TB, and although many may feel that TB-related stigma is a story of the yesteryears, the studies done by Tuberculosis Research Centre in India establish the fact that significant number of women with TB become homeless once diagnosed with TB.

India’s Health and Family Welfare minister Dr Anbumani Ramadoss said at the recently concluded Fifth International Microbicides Conference 2008 that: “studies done at Tuberculosis Research Centre in Chennai showed that women who develop Tuberculosis, 1 in 1000 lose their home. TB is the major co-infection of HIV.”

Just a week ago, the body of a woman who died of TB in India, was not handed over to relatives for cremation but driven in a car for 5 days by her employers. It is clear that the TB-related stigma attains a worse magnitude and impact for women with TB.

Millennium development goals speak about promoting gender equality, empowerment of women and improved maternal health to combat HIV. “It will be very difficult to achieve the above millennium development goals if the current trend of increasing HIV infections in women continues” said Dr Ramadoss.

However what Dr Ramadoss said now, WHO had alerted in 1998 stating that “TB is the single biggest killer of young women.”

"Wives, mothers and wage earners are being cut down in their prime and the world isn't noticing," had said Dr Paul Dolin of WHO's Global Tuberculosis Programme in a 1998 press release of WHO. "Yet the ripple effect on families, communities and economies will be felt long after a woman has died."

Women, are biologically, socially and physiologically more prone for HIV transmission than men. “AIDS in India is not only a health issue, it is a social issue, it is an economic issue” said Dr Ramadoss.

TB being the most common opportunistic infection for people living with HIV, it is vital for TB programmes to be accessible for women, especially those women who are most underserved and economically disadvantaged.

The WHO recommended treatment for TB, Directly Observed Treatment Short-course (DOTS), should function in a manner so as to reduce the gender inequities. TB education programmes should reach women, especially those in hard-to-reach settings. The TB treatment centres should be more accessible and safer places to women to go regularly for their medicines.

Health for many women is the last on the priority in a family. So it is not surprising that women get late in getting diagnosed for TB and eventually for treatment. Nutritionally the food they receive in many settings in India is often the least nutritious and inadequate in a family. Women with TB need not only to adhere to TB treatment but also to the nutrition they receive.

It is high time for those working on reducing gender inequities and disease control interventions be it HIV or TB, to work more closely together.

With closely approaching International Women’s Day (8 March) and the World TB Day (24 March), let us bring different stakeholders together to change the situation so that the most disadvantaged women can also ably say: ‘I can stop TB’.

Published in:

My News, India (8 March 2008)